Change Issues in Curriculum and Instruction/Credibility
By Tiffany M. Hall and Camilla Walck, June 2007
Credibility in education covers a wide range of issues. Among these are the credibility of the teacher, credibility of instructional resources, the credibility of information, and the credibility of research material.
The best of teachers, and there are many of them, know the importance of teaching. They not only teach to the mind, but teach to the heart as well". - Timothy Sullivan - President/College of William and Mary 1992-2005.
Credibility of the Teacher
A credible person is expert (experienced, qualified, intelligent, skilled) and trustworthy (honest, fair, unselfish, caring) (ChangingMinds, 2007). Grounded in Aristotle’s concept of ethos, McCroskey and Young (1981) defined the concept credibility as “believability.” The constructed credibility of an individual is primarily dependent upon how they are perceived by others (Robinson & King, 2000). Knowledge and expertise of subject matter, honesty of intent, and concern for others all play into teacher credibility. With credibility involving more belief than fact it is strongly situated via the "eye of the beholder", allowing for such things as accuracy and reality to be irrelevant(Kougl, 1997). Credibility, a subjective way of thought, seems most prevalent and necessary to attain within the classroom setting (Robinson, T. & King, T., 2002).
Knight, 2000, organizes the characteristics of a credible teacher as one who possesses competence, trustworthiness, and dynamism.
Competence is the perceived “expertness” of the speaker, i.e., their knowledge of matter (Knight). No one can argue the fact that a teacher must have mastered the subject matter in order to develop credibility in his/her field. However, if a teacher fails to deliver the subject matter in a way that is logical and meaningful to the student, credibility will be lost. In order to enhance credibility in delivery of material teachers must possess good classroom management skills, have the ability to answer questions, possess a broad range of information, and have the ability to explain complex material well (Knight).
Trustworthiness refers to whether or not the teacher has the best interest of the students at heart (Knight). The student knows whether or not the teacher truly cares about his/her success in the class. Teachers who work to develop this trust must develop relationships with their students that foster teacher-student dialog. They know their students. This knowledge extends beyond the academic abilities of the student. The teacher should know about the student's home life, learning style, special abilities, and any extracurricular activities the student may participate in. If at all possible, teachers should make attempts to attend outside events that their students are involved in. In addition, teachers who are consistent and fair with classroom discipline, work to include all students in activities, treat all students the same, and do not embarrasss students are more likely to develop trustworthiness with their students.
Dynamism refers to how a teacher presents his/her self in daily interactions with students and the curricular activities. Teachers must present material in a manner that excites the students about the topic of discussion. Diversity in delivery of instruction, use of technology, games, discussions, and investigations are all methods that lend diversity to presentation of material. However, even the most exciting method of instruction can fail to excite students when the teacher is not enthusiastic in the delivery. A more recent factor receiving notice by scholars is that of teacher immediacy, which refers to the use of communication behaviors (e.g., movement, enthusiasm, use of gesters, humor, vocal variety) that reduce both the psychological and physical distance between two individuals (Myers, Zhong & Guan, 1998). Whether at the conscious or unconscious level, a student's perception of the teacher's ethos, or speaker's character, has an important impact on how he or she will react to the teacher and how effective the teacher will be in the classroom (Haskins, 2000).
Credibility of Intructional Resources
Also lending to the teacher’s credibility are the resources the teacher uses in the classroom to enhance instruction. Resources containing erroneous information that can be disproved by students puts the teacher’s reliability and trustworthiness at risk. To maintain personal credibility it is important that teachers evaluate the credibility of instructional materials and web based information used within the classroom.
Credibility of Books
One thing a teacher may do in preparation for presenting a new unit of study or project is to select books that may be included in the classroom library or to be used for whole group reading. START, an acronym for Scope Treatment Authority Relevance Timeliness, is recommended by University of Minnesota Libraries (2007) to assist in determining the credibility of books. To evaluate books for instructional purposes, teachers must consider scope. For this purpose scope refers to the extent to which a topic is covered. Does the book cover the topic completely? If not, to what extent? The teacher must also consider treatment. What is the books purpose? Is the selection biased? Is the information fact based or opinion based? Are other sources cited? Also for consideration is authority. Who is the author and is he or she an expert in the subject? What company published the book? The relevance of the book must also be considered. Is the information relevant to the topic of study? Timeliness is also important when determining credibility. When was the book published or copyrighted? Is the information current? Is the information still useful?
Credibility of Software
Software is an instructional tool that teachers often use in the classroom. Teachers can use anything from games to encyclopedias, all of which can be credible sources for learning. Different types of games can include cognitive development games and skill practice games. Many teachers are skeptical about using games in the classroom and feel that they are not credible; however, games can often be a very credible for student learning. For example, games help teachers gain students' attention and increase their motivation to learn (Using games for learning, 2000). Regardless of the type of software that the teacher chooses to use, when evaluating software for instructional use, the teacher should approach the software as a student. If the software is billed as user friendly, is it? Is it as engaging as the reviews suggest? Is the information biased? Is any of the content potentially offensive to any group of students? Is the information presented factual?
There is no question that this is the information age. Modern technlogy has brought with it the ability for immediate access to seemingly limitless amounts of information. The click of a mouse opens the door to an overflow of information about topics as trivial as Paris Hilton’s latest follies to topics as consequential as global warming. Any teacher with “googling” capability can use the Internet to enhance instruction in any discipline. A Google search can yield so many choices that a teacher may not know where to begin. In January 1994, the World Wide Web consisted of 900 websites. In May 2007, there were 118, 023, 363 sites on the Internet (http://news.netcraft.com/archives/web_server_survey.html). Google catalogs billions of web pages that make up web sites. Because there is such an enormous amount of information on the Web, “it seems impossible that all of the sites can be considered credible” making it important to determine the credibility of sites considered for use within the classroom (Greer, et al., 2002).
So Easy Even a Caveman Can Do It
With the availability of site builder web sites and web site development software, anybody can create a web site to be included on the Internet. Wikimedia makes it even easier for Internet users to become content contributors to the World Wide Web. Few barriers stop people from publishing on the Web. The online world contains deceptive coverage of current events, health information that is factually incorrect, and ads that promise the impossible (Fogg,et al., 2002). With anyone able to post information on the Internet for the world to see, how can teachers be certain of the credibility of the information presented? Teachers, as well as students, need to be educated on how to evaluate this information to determine its validity.
Credibility of Online Information
Peer review, author credibility, and writing style are three traditional methods utilized to determine credibility (Standler, 2003). These traditional methods may be difficult to employ when evaluating Internet sites because authors are no longer limited to publication by publishing companies or scholarly journals. Many writers may forego the challenges of traditional publication and instead opt for the ease of publication on the World Wide Web. This often eliminates peer review and leaves the author’s credibility unquestioned by a publisher and the work untouched by the editor’s pen. This results in increased responsibility for the teacher when selecting Internet sites for use with students. It is imperative that teachers develop a keen sense for determining the credibility of information found on the Web. Teachers must be educated on methods to ensure the credibility of this information. Because so much information is available, and because that information can appear to be fairly "anonymous", it is necessary to develop skills to evaluate what you find (Kirk, 1996).
Even without the endorsement of peers and publishing companies, it is possible that information posted online is credible. Teachers must review information found online to determine if it meets their standards for credibility. Credibility is all about trustworthiness. After reading information presented on a web page, teachers can determine the trustworthiness by accessing prior knowledge and/or conducting research to validate the accuracy and authenticity of the ideas presented on the web page. Additionally, teachers should consider the information's relevance to what is being taught, its ability to engage students in learning, and its appropriateness for the intended users. The following link provides a list questions to consider when assessing the credibility of on-line resources: 
Teaching Students How to Evaluate Sources for Credibility
Teaching students how to evaluate a work for reliability and credibility becomes especially important now that they are exposed to such a large quantity of information from the Internet. In addition to the methods already mentioned for evaluating this information, teachers would do well to teach their students at least the rudiments of logic. Students should know, for example, the meanings of the words "premise" and "assumption." They should be taught to look for sufficient evidence to back up any assertions they encounter in their research, and older students should be able to distinguish between inductive and deductive reasoning. Finally, students should be alerted to the possibility of fallacious reasoning, and older students should be able to identify such fallacies as non sequitur, broad generalization, and post hoc (illogical assignment of causation between two events that are probably unrelated). Advertisers are often guilty of using these fallacious methods to persuade consumers to buy their products, and students will be well served by learning how unscrupulous people may try to manipulate them in this way to act against their own best interests.
Credibility of Research
Equally important to the credibility of the teacher is the utilization of proven educational practices within the classroom. The credibility of information impacts educational research. In order for educational practices to be effective, the evaluation of these practices must be credible. Inadequate evaluation and synthesis of extant literature impacts not only the quality of a single study, but can have cumulative effects on a body of literature that may manifest in a lineage of poor conceptualization, design, measurement, methodology, and ultimately, inferences (Dellinger, 2004). Additionally, some researchers believe that procedural guidelines must be established for classroom action research to be considered credible (Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education, 2007).
With respect to any action research that the teacher conducts in his or her classroom, its value and credibility will be enhanced if the data so collected are triangulated, that is, are gathered by different persons or with different methods. Simply having another observer such as a colleague come into the classroom to observe the results of a new practice the teacher is experimenting with increases the credibility of the conclusions concerning the effectiveness of the that practice. Getting feedback from the students themselves would also increase the credibility of the findings as would evaluating the written work that students produce as a result of the practice. The more evidence the teacher has from a variety of sources, the more likely that he or she will be able to convince administrators or colleagues to adopt his or her ideas or practices.
Credibility is often in the eye of the beholder. Competence, trustworthiness, and dynacism all contribute to teacher credibility; however, that credibility is greatly influenced by everything from how the teacher speaks to the instructional materials he or she uses. At a time when skepticism about and criticism of public education seems to be growing, it is of the utmost importance that teachers project an image of credibility and utilize resources and methods that are credible.
Discussion Question #1
How can you as a teacher increase your credibility as perceived by your students?
It is vital for teachers to admit when they do not know the answer to a question. Answering a question wrongly, especially when the student discovers the answer is wrong, is a major source of loss of credibility. In addition, learning a new concept together brings the teacher closer to the student in the learning process. This is not to say that teachers do not need to know their material. Credible teachers know their curriculum and are not threatened to learn more. In fact, those teachers who stay current by taking courses (or other methods of gaining knowledge) are more credible than those who do not. Students perception of this credibility is enhanced when the student knows the teacher is continuing his/her pursuit of knowledge.
Teachers must work to develop positive relationships with their students both in and out of the classroom. This can be accomplished by attending student events, making conversation with the student at lunch, or calling home to report positive contributions. When I see my students in the hall, I make it a point to have a quick conversation with them. This conversation goes beyond just saying hello.
Teachers need to make sure that their methods of instruction are met with enthusiasm. This means the teacher needs to be enthusiastic about the material, have the ability to excite the students about the material, and be aware of when the students are getting bored with the delivery method. I try to 'gauge' my audience and switch things up when I feel like I am losing my audience. Adding jokes, funny stories, or interesting demonstrations to a lecture can be effective in grabbing the students attention.
One way to bolster credibility with students is to utilize resources and materials familiar to and trusted by students. Often as a way to engage students, I would use “kid approved” information in my lessons. For example, many pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students may be unfamiliar with the role of a scientist, but just about every student knows Jimmy Neutron from Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius and the Professor from The Power Puff Girls. As a teacher, all of my science units were problem based requiring students to think like a scientist. Well, that can be challenging if the students don’t even fully understand what a scientist does. When discussing the role of a scientist, I always included information about real scientists such as George Washington Carver and Marie Curie, but for that added level of understanding and in a lot of ways, credibility, I also included information about scientists to which my primary students could relate and immediately recognize. Not only did seeing their familiar cartoon friends hook them, they were pleasantly surprised to see that even their teacher knew of Jimmy Neutron and the Professor.
Discussion Question #2
What is one thing you look for when evaluating the credibility of instructional materials and/or Internet sites used within your classroom?
When evaluating the credibility of sources on the internet, I look for sources that are from reliable publications. Often I will look at the references from these publications in order to find further sources of information. Wikibooks are very new to me, so I am still a bit unsure as to how to evaluate the credibility of material found on these sites. However, I have yet to find any questionable information on the wikibook sites that I have visited. I feel that the "peer" review of the material and the fact that such worthy people (like our own classmate:)) are montitoring entries helps to give credibility to these sites. My feelings are that wikibooks offer some of the most up-to-date information on a broad range of topics. With many people contributing to the process, mistakes can be identified and corrected. In addition, many of the links I use in the classroom are sponsored by scientific organizations. For example, the National Science Organization provides links to many credible scientific sites that are chosen for teacher use in the classroom.
When evaluating instructional materials and Internet sites for credibility, I consider the ideas presented and try to determine if the ideas are supported by evidence. I do that by reviewing the works cited in the bibliography or footnotes and by checking the ideas presented against what I already know. If there are no other works cited by the author, I search for other resources that may support or disprove the work of the author.
I also consider information about the author. If there is little information about the author, I will Google the author to find additional publications by the author as well as credentials. If I am unable to find and/or verify credentials, that does not stop me from using the resource with students. I am more concerned with the accuracy and authenticity of the information than anything else.
ChangingMinds, 2007. Retrieved on May 30, 2007 from: http://changingminds.org/explanations/theories/credibility.htm.
Dellinger, A. (2004). Enhancing the visibility and credibility of educational research: validity and the review of literature. Retrieved on June 2, 2007 from http://convention.allacademic.com/aera2004/view_paper_info.html
Fogg, B.J., Kameda, T., Boyd, J.,Marshall, J., Sethi,R., Sockol, M. and Trowbridge, T. (2002). "Stanford-Makovsky Wed Credibility Study 2002: Investigating what makes Web sites credible today." A Research Report by the Stanford Persuasive TechnologyLab & Makozsky & Company. Stanford University. Available at www.webcredibility.org
Greer, T., Holinga, D., Kindel, C., and Netznik, M. (1999). An educator's guide to credibility and web evaluation. Retrieved on May 18, 2007 from http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu/wp/credibility
Haskins, W. (2000, March 3). Ethos and pedagogical communication: Suggestions for enchancing credibility in the classroom. Current Issues in Education (On-line), 3(4). Available: http://cie.ed.asu.edu/volume3/number4/.
Kirk, E. (1996). Evaluating information found on the internet. Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved on June 4, 2007 from http://www.library.jhu.edu/researchhelp/general/evaluationg/index.html
Kough, K. (1997). Communication in the classroom. Prospect Heights, IL: Wavelane Press, Inc.
Myers, S.A., Zhong,M. & Guan, S. (1998). Instructor immediacy in the Chinese college classroom. Communication Studies, 49, 240-254.
Robinson, T. & King, T. (2002). Student perception of instructor affinity seeking, credibility and ethnicity in the HBCU classroom. Retrieved on May 31, 2007 from http://www.xula.edu/xulanexus/issue4/Robinson_King.html
Standler, R. B. (2003). Evaluating credibility of information on the Internet. Retrieved on May 18, 2007 from www.rbs0.com/credible.pdf
University of Minnesota Libraries (2007). START: evaluating the credibility of books and articles. Retrieved on May 30, 2007 from http://www.lib.umn.edu/research/instruction/lessons/start_ass_ba.phtml
Using Games for Learning. (2000). Retrieved on June 14, 2007 from http://www.teleologic.net/AIS/Chapter%2018.pdf
Wikibooks, 2007. Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education: Classroom Action Research.
Wikibooks, 2007. Wikiversity: Some ideas about wikiversity.